I have commissioned the world famous fashion designer Vivienne Levandi to design me a whole series of costumes for the coming year. I have flown over to New York and I catch up with her in her Greenwich Village studio to see what she has managed to pull off, and to interview her for Lilly’s Walk-in Wardrobe. I’m going to cover one season an article and first up is spring.
When I arrive she’s looking very relaxed in a cashmere polo neck and a cream two-piece suit. ‘Darlink!’ she says, ‘it’s absolutely wonderful to see you! I’m thinkink you will love what I have done for you. It is very Lilly, but it has a little somethink new too!’ We air kiss extravagantly. Vivienne introduces me to her assistant, Carly, who is going to help me. Carly is a stunningly pretty model. Vivienne has a good eye but she does seem to get through her assistants like I get through Custard Creams.
Carly leads me behind the screen to get ready and I ditch my bargain-basement threads.
‘And how is Ginny?’ asks Vivienne while I am undressing.
‘Oh, you know, she’s very Ginny!’ I reply. ‘Actually, I’ve not seen much of her since her inauguration.’
‘Darlink, we lead such busy lives! Are you beink ready yet?’ Carly leads me out from behind the screen and I see that Vivienne’s spring creation is laid out on her cutting table for me. It’s already looking gorgeous and I am terribly excited. ‘Yes, Darlink,’ she says. ‘It is fabulous is it not? I am thinkink it would look even better on. Now, foundations are terribly important. And here, for the beginnink, we have a lovely little pair of panties. Handmade from Estonian lace. Imagine! All those little fingers hard at work!
‘But they are pink!’ I cry. ‘I always wear black.’
‘Darlink! Live a little! How are you goink to be a fashion icon if you don’t take risks? Pink is the colour of sprink. Think cherry blossom.’ Carly stretches out the elastic waistband of the panties and I step in, one foot at a time. I notice she has gorgeous long glossy nails that must be an inch long. ‘Careful!’ cries Vivienne, ‘Don’t snag the lace!’
‘Or me!’ I add. Carly huffs and mutters something under her breath. She pulls the panties up into position and deliberately snaps the elastic with a sharp ping. Vivienne tut-tuts. She stands back, head on one side, and considers me thoughtfully.
‘I am lovink it!’ She says. ‘That reminds me, Carly – we must get a pack of sausages out of the freezer for our dinner tonight. And now the matchink bra. It is such a shame that you are a man and have nothing to show at the top. Sprink is the perfect time for a balcony bra. A first peak of low hanging fruit, desirable but just beyond reach.’
‘Fruit is summer and autumn, Vivienne,’ I say.
‘No it is not. It is sprink!’ she says, rather put out.
‘Remember summer-fruit yoghurt and autumn cider?’ I suggest.
‘Anyways, this is your sprink bra. The same pink Estonian lace, like the panties. It is sacrilege to use this heavy construction with such delicate fabric but we cannot be affordink to have all that paddink shift.’ Carly helps me on with the bra and hooks me up at the back.
‘Somethink is not beink right’ Vivienne sighs. ‘Lilly, you are givink me nothing to work with. You simply must go and see my friend Maria in Milan. She will fix you up a nice pair of big boobies.’ She and Carly fiddle with straps and clasps for a while and prod and knead the padding, then stand back to look. They seem more satisfied. ‘Oh well. That will have to do. And now for the stockinks. You will be likink these.’
Vivienne picks up a pair of white high-gloss stockings and gives one to Carly. One at a time I point my toes and they start sliding a stocking up each leg. As they smoothe and straighten them out I see they have been painted with an intricate floral pattern of lilies. ‘Oh, they’re beautiful!’ I gasp.
‘We thought you will like them’ says Vivienne, looking up at me and grinning. ‘We have each painted one. Mine is of Japanese Lilies and Carly’s is Snow Lilies. Oh, no, wait! We’ve got them the wrong way round.’ They peel them off, swap over and start again. As the lilies climb up my leg I can see there is a difference in style. Carly’s, on the left, is beautifully painted with fine delicate strokes perfectly mimicking the patterns of nature. Vivienne’s, on the right, is, to be honest, rather clumsily drawn, as if it’s been crayoned by a young child. I say nothing.
‘Carly took forever!’ quipped Vivienne loudly. ‘She is seemink to be thinkink she is a real artist and not an assistant.’ Then she tut- tuts, this time at me. ‘Lilly, these hold-ups are never going to stay up when your legs are so hairy. Carly, fetch the wax strips!’
Carly grumbles and goes off to look for them. I take my chance to give Vivienne a word of advice. ‘Vivienne, you should really treat Carly with more respect. She seems really good and you don’t want to lose another one.’
‘Oh do not be fussink!’ replies Vivienne with a dismissive wave of the hand. She is a Sergeant in the US Marine Corps. She’s only here for a week while she’s on leave. She can take it! Vivienne has to be boss!’
Carly returns with the wax strips. They can see I’m nervous – I’ve never had my legs waxed before and after a discussion they reluctantly agree to do just the tops of my legs, where the sticky strips on the hold-ups need to grip. I look down nervously as Carly wraps a strip of hot wax around each of my thighs. I just can’t imagine her on a parade square shouting at a squad of recruits. Her face is awfully close to me and her hair brushes against my leg as she works. ‘Nice panties!’ she says, winking up at me. This is too much and I can tell I am starting to ‘stand to attention’ like one of her soldiers. Carly has noticed and smiles to herself.
‘Steady, Marine!’ she mutters and pulls hard on the wax strips. I have never felt such pain and cry out involuntarily. How can women do this to themselves? I wonder. The pain, though, puts me back in my place and we continue with the dressing without any further interruptions.
‘You are both naughty girls!’ says Vivienne. ‘And now for the skirt!’
The skirt is absolutely gorgeous. It is plain and simple, a short figure-hugging tube in lime green. Its simplicity beautifully sets off the intricacy if the stockings, well the left one at least. I am really pleased and do a few demonstration walks up and down the studio while Vivienne and Carly watch. Carly nods in approval. Vivienne mutters something about it being a shame that the left leg spoils the effect. The top is also plain, in cream picked out from the hand-painted lilies. I am beaming. I feel the skirt and top are beautifully understated and together serve to put all the focus on the exquisite left stocking. To finish off the outfit there is a matching floral choker necklace, drop earrings, and a lovely big floral bracelet, all of enamel lilies.
Unfortunately, the afternoon is then slightly spoilt when Carly and Vivienne have a massive argument about what colour wig I should wear. Carly suggests blond but Vivienne is insistent that it should be ginger-red, ‘the colour of sprink!’ She simply won’t accept that red is autumn and I make a big mistake when, quietly furious with each other, they turn to me for an adjudication.
‘I like blond,’ I say. This sends Vivienne into an enormous sulk and she barely talks to me as I get changed again and Carly carefully wraps the beautiful clothes up in tissue and puts them into a lovely paper gift bag with rope handles and emblazoned with a large signature ‘Vivienne’. But her huff is short-lived and melts away as I pile on the complements. ‘Vivienne, this has turned out better than I had ever dreamed! I absolutely love it. It’s chic and pretty and very feminine, and thats exactly what it makes me feel! I just can’t wait to show Ginny. Vivienne is beaming again, her pride restored.
‘You are beink very kind. It is always a pleasure to design for a gorgeous girl like you!’ We both know how to massage each other’s egos! Vivienne, Carly and I air kiss extravagantly, several times over, and then it is time, and I have to go. I’ve had an amazing afternoon.
I’m booked to fly out the next morning, just leaving time for a walk in Central Park, dinner at Carlesco’s and a Broadway show. Back at the hotel, there is a knock at the door. It’s Carly. So thoughtfully, she has painted me a right-leg stocking to match her left one and she hands it over to me in one of Vivienne’s gift bags. ‘I am havink to go now.’ she says in her best impression of an Estonian accent.
‘Be havink a good journeyink back to the Marines!’ I call after her down the corridor and we have a fit of giggles.
‘Look at the bag’ she mouths from the open lift. I hold it up and look. Under Vivienne’s big printed signature, with a big red marker pen she’s written ‘and Carly.’ The revolution has begun!